An arrangement that saw WA Police responding to triple-0 ambulance calls paramedics could not reach in time has come to an end, but the agency can not say how many times its officers were called to assist.
- WA Police’s arrangement to help out St John Ambulance is over
- It will not reveal how many times officers responded to paramedic calls
- Opposition police spokesman Peter Collier says it’s “unacceptable”
The practice began in May when St John Ambulance was struggling to keep up with demand as the state’s COVID-19 wave peaked.
Those pressures came to a head when a Perth woman, Georgina Wild, died after waiting more than 2 hours for an ambulance.
In the week that followed, both WA Police and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services were called in to assist the embattled ambulance service — an arrangement which only ended overnight.
The ABC asked WA Police for the number of times officers had been dispatched on calls for St John Ambulance, and the last time that had occurred.
But a police spokesperson did not provide answers to either question.
“In May 2022, WA Police Force and DFES agreed to provide contingency support, with police officers and DFES made available to assist with calls for public assistance on purely health-related matters or, more specifically, acute medical conditions,” the statement read.
“The agreement was for this support to continue until the end of November.
“Emergency services work together on a daily basis to ensure the needs of the community are met in a crisis.
“This is particularly the case in regional WA where distances to travel can be greater and access to resources more challenging as a result.”
Shadow Police Minister Peter Collier said he had asked for similar information weeks ago and had been told the figures would not be provided until parliament sits in February next year.
“It doesn’t surprise me. Having said that, it’s unacceptable,” he said.
“There is absolutely no way that the government does not know these statistics.”
Mr Collier pointed to an answer given to a similar question he asked in June, which he said was provided much more quickly.
It showed that in the first three weeks of the arrangement’s operation, officers had either been sent instead of an ambulance, or drove an ambulance for St John Ambulance, on 23 occasions.
WA Police Union President Mick Kelly said despite pressures on the ambulance service easing over recent months, officers were still being sent on these calls.
He said in particular, police in regional areas were being sent to medical emergencies either as first responders or in a pair with someone from St John Ambulance in at least one case hundreds of kilometers away from their base.
“That … reduces the ability for our members to be able to service the community and be available for police-related tasks,” Mr Kelly said.
Lack of training a worry
He said they were relieved the arrangement would no longer be in place because they did not have the first aid training needed.
“We felt that they hadn’t the relevant training to be able to obviously assist someone in a medical emergency when they’re the first on the scene,” he said.
“Our people were more than happy to back up the ambulance and assist in any emergency, but we certainly felt that our members were exposed to a more severe risk.
“Morally, police officers would probably want to do whatever they could to help in a time of need, but it’s not core policing … and it exposed our members to risk.”
A spokesperson for St John Ambulance said: “Sustained performance improvements have enabled St John to wind back some capacity-building initiatives.”
It comes as the service saw its ability to respond to the highest-priority calls improving for the last five months.
When the arrangement was first enacted in May, paramedics reached just shy of a quarter of priority one calls within the target time of 15 minutes.
The most recent data available, for the month of October, shows that performance has improved to reach 83.6 per cent of calls within the target time.